It's never too late for Elf on the Shelf.
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Don't Panic: It's Never Too Late For Your Elf On The Shelf To Make An Appearance

It's that time of year again: everyone and their sister is posting pictures of the cute things their elves are doing. This year, you were going to win the elf battle, but now it's already December and you forgot. Is it too late for Elf on the Shelf, or can you start now?

Let me put this kindly, but bluntly: it's a toy that you're pretending is a Christmas elf from the North Pole that comes alive at night like in the 1987 horror movie Mannequin. Sure, the "Elf Return Week" is supposed to be between Nov. 23 and Dec. 1, but really, it's not a big deal to start a little late. Also, the elf is supposed to be known for causing trouble and getting into all sorts of shenanigans, right? Who's to say that little Timbit — or whatever your elf's name is — didn't decide to sightsee on his way to your house? What if he's just tardy?

There are all sorts of reasons I can come up with for why your elf got to your house late: Because the stupid box he was in was buried beneath a pile of abandoned fitted sheets you never use, because you're still scraping rotten pumpkins off the porch, because you shoved him in last year's wrapping paper tube and it somehow made its way to the recycling during Easter, etc.

You could also say he was just really tired from all that Thanksgiving turkey. Taylor Hill/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

But if you need another reason to tell the kids (although they'll probably never notice Jingles wasn't right on time), here are my suggestions:

  • Took a trip to Vegas, spent all his money on buffets, and had to call his friend Buddy to get airfare. Buddy was busy having coffee with his wife.
  • He decided to drive to your house, only to realize his car wasn't seaworthy, and he had to hitch a ride on a narwhal tusk.
  • His layover in Denver got delayed because of the bomb cyclone over the holiday. You can print a fake boarding ticket and everything.
  • He did not finish his homework on time, and had to stay back at the North Pole because his block work was not up to par. Truth be told, his brother Jimbit's towers are still better, and he's feeling pretty down about it. I suggest cocoa.
  • Your elf is a top secret spy acting as a double agent for the Tooth Fairy. Santa is tired of the creepy supernatural tooth taker, and wants her put out of business. He has Timbit working to infiltrate the operation, but Timbit likes the art that the Tooth Fairy produces with the teeth and her composting efforts (teeth have so much calcium), so he's feeding Santa misinformation while learning how to use teeth to power batteries. (This one is especially good if any of your kids have loose teeth.)
  • His sense of direction is absolutely terrible. He read "Cleveland, Ohio," and ended up in Cleveland, Mississippi. He spent a week learning how to spell Mississippi so that he could Uber to your place.
  • Turns out, his North Pole smartphone doesn't support ride sharing applications for cars — the reindeer unionized and rallied against it. But without Santa, reindeer have no idea where they're going. Dancer took him to somewhere in Canada that "smelled familiar." Apparently he has a cousin on a farm there.
  • He started reading The Goldfinch because he wanted to finish it before he watched the movie. He didn't realize it was so long, or he would have started it sooner. Since the book was from the library in the North Pole, he couldn't take it all the way to North Carolina without risking serious late fees.
  • He was at your house the whole time, but he wasn't sure he was in the right place because the kids have grown so much in the past year. They're so much taller and know so much more. If it wasn't for the parents, he'd have left.

No matter how you do it, the kids will love the whole thing. The experience is what's important — not when it starts.